Do early motor milestones predict later cognitive skills?
New research suggests that infants that are late developing certain motor skills, such as pulling themselves to a standing position, may face challenges in later cognitive development, but more research needs to be done before any clinical recommendations can be made.
Motor skill milestones are often used to assess overall development in premature or developmentally disabled infants. In children with developmental disabilities, delayed motor milestones are viewed as important prodromal symptoms of more severe impairments and possible intellectual disabilities, according to the report. There is little research, however, exploring the age at which motor skills are developed and later cognitive performance in children without developmental problems.
Infants in the United States typically sit without support around age 6 months, and may stand with support. By 9 months, infants usually can pull themselves to a standing position and crawl. They begin to walk alone or take a few unassisted steps around age 12 months with full-blown walking occurring around 18 months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In this study, researchers evaluated children born between 2008 and 2010 to better understand the connection between motor milestones and later development of cognitive skills. The study was performed using data from 599 children—314 singletons, 259 twins, and 26 triplets—participating in the Upstate KIDS study.
Demographics of the study participants were 50% boys, 52.4% singletons, and 59.6% that attended daycare in the first year of life. Almost half (44.6%) of the mothers received fertility treatments, and 85.8% were non-Hispanic white.
Mothers were asked to report on major milestones at 4, 8, 12, 18, and 24 months of age. A follow-up assessment of the child’s development was performed at 4 years in a clinical setting using the Battelle Developmental Inventory, Second Edition.
Maternal reporting covered milestones including sitting with support, standing with assistance, crawling on hands and knees, walking with assistance, standing alone, and walking alone.
In the 4-year clinical assessment, children were evaluated on personal/social, adaptive, motor, communication, and cognitive skills using a 3-point scale.
The research team found that children who began standing later had more cognitive challenges as they aged. Associations between motor milestones and later cognitive development were primarily observed in relation to the age when the children crawled and when they stood without assistance.